A Midsummer Night's Dream

Title page of the play, from the first quarto
William Shakespeare
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We studied this Shakespeare comedy in 9th grade using an "interleaved" edition featuring the original text on one side and notes to clarify the meanings of archaic terms on the facing pages. Looking at the text on the pages was a little daunting, but it is amazing what a difference reading it aloud in class made. Suddenly the words were not so strange or difficult to follow any more, and as it is a play -- not a novel -- reading aloud really helped bring it to life. Our class was also able to attend a live outdoor performance, which further enhanced our study of the play.

As for the play itself, it is a light comedy that revolves around two young men (Demetrius and Lysander) and two young women (Hermia and Helena) and their adventures. Their fathers want Demetrius and Hermia to wed, but Hermia prefers Lysander. Meanwhile, Helena is still in love with Demetrius even though he has jilted her for Hermia. Hoping to elope, Hermia and Lysander enter a wood, but are pursued by Demetrius and Helena. There they get mixed up in the doings of the fairies, whose King and Queen have themselves had a bit of a falling out. Throw in the mischievous Puck and a group of simple craftsmen, and you have a recipe for much hilarity.

Shakespeare uses the situations to explore our human capacity for caprice and wilfulness through the sometimes ridiculous events in his play. Other themes you might want to discuss are: is it appropriate for a father to insist that his daughter marry a particular man? To what extent have the people Shakespeare portrays been influenced by the return of classical thought and Roman law in this regard? What of Oberon's attitude toward his wife Titania? And what about the magic? It's supposed to fix everything, but does it? Or does it just create more chaos?

But A Midsummer Night's Dream is a lot of fun, so don't let too much dissection spoil it for you or your students.

Additional notes: 

Written approximately 1595.

Many editions available, including several online.

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